Counter-Terrorism: Caucasian Nightmare

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December 28, 2011: In Russia, it was believed that the Islamic radical movement in the Caucasus (the Moslem provinces of Chechnya, Ingushetia, and Dagestan) was declining because nearly all Islamic terrorists were older (30s and 40s). But a recent opinion survey of young men (18-30) in urban areas of these three provinces found that 12 percent backed the use of Islamic terrorism. Twenty percent considered them Salafists (Moslems who seek a return to more conservative Islamic lifestyles). People in the rural areas are even more conservative, indicating that there are plenty of young recruits for the Islamic radical groups.

The war in the three majority Moslem provinces in the Caucasus is killing about a thousand people a year. The resistance is largely nationalistic but with Islamic radicalism added. This religious angle gets cash and other aid from Islamic terrorist organizations worldwide. The three provinces have a combined population of four million (most in Dagestan), with only one percent of the people from other parts of Russia. When the Soviet Union broke up in 1991 the population was over 25 percent larger and a third was non-Moslem. But two decades of violence, mainly in Chechnya, has driven the non-Moslems out.

Russia tried letting Chechnya be independent in the 1990s, but the Chechens couldn't govern themselves and the place turned into a base for criminal gangs and warlords. So Russia returned in 1999, sharply cutting the crime rate in the region but sparking a rebellion that has smoldered ever since. Nearly all the violence is in these three Moslem provinces, with occasional terror attacks elsewhere in Russia. The years of fighting has increased tension between people from the Caucasus and Russians in general. This has led to increased violence against the millions of people from the three Moslem provinces that moved north to get jobs. Corruption and violence make it difficult to run a business in the three provinces, so there is high unemployment. The rebels are a small group, less than a thousand men, but losses are constantly replaced by unemployed young men who don't want to migrate north for work. Clan warfare is an ancient tradition in this area, as are warlords that preside over several different rebel groups and many more criminal gangs. The occasional terror attack in Russian cities, and the constant threat of more, has forced the government to try and eliminate the unrest down there, otherwise, it would be largely left to local authorities to cope with.

 


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